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Brazil beats Costa Rica with two late goals

By Jerome Pugmire

AP Sports Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — After more than 90 minutes of aggravation and exasperation, Neymar and Brazil finally broke through Costa Rica’s smothering defense.

Philippe Coutinho scored in the first minute of stoppage time, and Neymar followed six minutes later to give Brazil a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday at the World Cup.

Unlike Argentina and Lionel Messi, Brazil is still in a good position to advance to the round of 16. Costa Rica has been eliminated.

“The responsibility is huge when you are playing for the national team,” Coutinho said. “You have to be mentally strong from the beginning until the end. We fought until the end and we were rewarded.”

Neymar dropped to his knees after the final whistle, sobbing in his hands as his teammates surrounded him and then lifted him off the ground.

“We know he had a difficult injury, he went through a very bad patch,” Coutinho said through a translator, referring to Neymar breaking a bone in his right foot four months ago. “But his joy at being on the pitch is contagious.”

A few minutes before the end, Neymar flopped backward to initially earn a penalty, but the contact was so exaggerated that the referee reversed the call after using video review. Neymar then angrily punched the ball a short time later as Costa Rica’s players tried to waste time. It earned Brazil’s biggest star a yellow card.

“The joy, the satisfaction and the pride of representing the national team is a lot,” Brazil coach Tite said, defending Neymar. “He has the responsibility, the pressure. Everyone shows it in their own way.”

Neymar seemed panicked for most of the second half as his shots sailed over the bar or simply missed the mark, and he complained over nearly every call. In danger of ending in a draw, Brazil seemed nervous but composed itself through the seven minutes of injury time.

Coutinho was first to get the ball past goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Rising superbly to meet a header from Marcelo’s cross, Roberto Firmino nodded the ball down to striker Gabriel Jesus, who then flicked it to a sprinting Coutinho in the penalty area.

In the seventh minute of injury time, Douglas Costa whipped in a cross from the right and Neymar deftly tapped it into the net.

Both Firmino and Costa had come on as substitutes in the second half.

“I think Brazil’s changes made an impact,” Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez said. “It became very difficult for us.”

Brazil has four points in Group E and plays Serbia in its final match in Moscow on Wednesday. Costa Rica has zero points and cannot advance.

After a drab and scrappy first half at St. Petersburg Stadium, Brazil came out energized and the chances piled up. Jesus put a header onto the crossbar, and Neymar’s hurried shot curled wide.

In Brazil’s opening 1-1 draw against Switzerland, Neymar had been fouled 10 times, sometimes harshly. But he was also in theatrical mode against Costa Rica, tumbling over dramatically when touched.

“We never tried to hurt him,” Ramirez said. “We tried to play fairly but stop him fairly as well.”

Referee Bjorn Kuipers twice waved away Neymar’s claims for fouls in the first half. He also ignored a Brazilian claim for a penalty after midfielder Paulinho bounced off defender Oscar Duarte contesting a high ball.

Several players, including Neymar and Marcelo, complained to Kuipers at the end of the first half. Once again, he just waved them away.

“We don’t need referees decisions to win a game,” Tite said. “Brazil doesn’t need any help.”

GROUP DYNAMICS

The match between Brazil and Serbia in Moscow on Wednesday could yet determine which teams finish in first and second place in Group E.

Costa Rica will play Switzerland on Wednesday in Nizhny Novgorod in its final group match.

SERIOUS STATS

With his 56th international goal, Neymar is now one ahead of Romario — which could be a useful omen for Brazil. Romario was the team’s top striker when Brazil won the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

Neymar is third on Brazil’s all-time scorers’ list, behind Pele (77) and Ronaldo (62).

•••

MUSA SCORES TWICE TO GIVE NIGERIA 2-0 WIN OVER ICELAND

By PAN PYLAS, Associated Press

VOLGOGRAD, Russia (AP) — Ahmed Musa gave Nigeria its first win at this year’s World Cup, and gave Argentina a gift.

Musa scored two second-half goals to help the Nigerians beat Iceland 2-0 Friday and move into second place in the group behind already-qualified Croatia.

Nigeria will face Argentina in its final group match on Tuesday in St. Petersburg. If Nigeria wins, it will advance to the round of 16. But if Argentina claims all three points, it can still advance depending on the result of the other match between Croatia and Iceland.

Musa, Nigeria’s all-time leading World Cup scorer with four goals, has played well against Argentina before. His two previous goals came at the 2014 tournament in Brazil in a group match against the two-time champions.

“It’s possible I’m going to score another two goals,” the 25-year-old Musa said.

On Friday, Musa gave Nigeria the lead in the 49th minute after Victor Moses sprinted deep into the Iceland half and curled a cross to the near post. Musa deftly controlled the ball before slamming it past Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson on the half-volley.

Nigeria nearly doubled its lead on several occasions, but Musa made it happen in the 75th minute. He picked up the ball on the left side of the Iceland penalty area, mazed his way past Halldorsson and picked his spot in the Iceland goal.

“I think the control made it more perfect for me,” said Musa.

, who hinted he wants to leave Premier League club Leicester and play for CSKA Moscow.

Iceland, the smallest nation ever to compete in the World Cup, was not as effective as it had been against Argentina when it earned a surprise 1-1 draw.

Still, the European champion quarterfinalists had a chance to get one back but Gylfi Sigurdsson sent a penalty kick over the Nigeria bar in the 83rd minute. The penalty was awarded after a video review showed that Alfred Finnbogason had been brought down by Tyronne Ebuehi.

KEY TO SUCCESS

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr made some tactical changes for the match, and they worked.

As well as starting with Musa, he opted to play captain John Obi Mikel in a more defensive role in midfield. His presence helped to shore up the defense against Iceland’s two-man forward line.

Rohr had come under pressure on the eve of the match to play Obi Mikel as a shield in front of the defense, the position he has played for much of his career, including at Chelsea. Rohr also played midfielder Victor Moses more defensively, too.

“If you change something you have to explain why,” Rohr said, “and they have to do it with conviction and motivation.”

GROUP DYNAMICS

Croatia can be joined by any of the other three teams in Group D in the round of 16.

Iceland can qualify if it beats Croatia in Rostov-on-Don on Tuesday in a match that takes place at the same time as the game between Nigeria and Argentina.

“We have to focus on the last game because that’s more important than today’s win,” Musa said.

ICELAND STILL HOPEFUL

Iceland has met Croatia several times in recent years, including in World Cup qualifying.

“We often say we are like a married a couple trying to get a divorce, but we always meet up again,” Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said. “We know Croatia. We know what kind of game it is going to be.”

___

More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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